Spatial vegetation utilization of elephants was investigated within mixed woodland savanna along the Chobe River in northern Botswana in the dry season of 1998. Using multiple linear regression, accumulated stem breakage by elephants was predicted by a terrain index, distance to water, stand density, number of trees > 4 m tall, tree height, density of Combretum apiculatum, C. elaeagnoides, C. mossambicense and the density of other (accumulated) tree species. Within mixed woodland at 2–7 km distance from the river fine-grained terrain ruggedness was the most important factor contributing to 55% of observed differences in use by elephants, while distance to water and the density of C. apiculatum contributed an additional 20% and 4%, respectively to the multiple linear regression model. Stem breakage was, on average, almost twice as high in rugged terrain compared with flat terrain at similar distance to water within the same vegetation type. Rugged terrain had 2–3-fold higher proportion of plots with very high Combretum shrub densities. These results suggest that the terrain index may be useful in management, predicting the areas most sensitive to vegetation change in a woodland system with increasing elephant densities.